“The desert, when the sun comes up. I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.” – Tom Hanks
You sit there stunned. No words can explain the ache in your soul. You saw God open doors and you praised him deeply. You lifted your hands as the answer was just what you prayed for…
Then, like a bolt of lightning, your world goes from praise to parched…
The hot air of the desert sucks the air right out of your lungs. The sands stings against your face as the winds of thoughts and doubts seek to bury you. The wildlife’s poisonous pitfalls seek to end your life. Mirages tease your mind and leave you emptier than before.
Was God and my relationship with him only a mirage? Is my life only to be a desert?
I Am Sunburnt
If I knew why bad things happen to good people, then I would be a rich man. Many people try to give answers, but how do those answers feel? It is like rubbing sand into a sunburn. We have been betrayed, backstabbed… burned.
The weather of the world has created a desert for our soul. Our thirsty soul only wants to rest and no long have to seek shelter, sustenance, and sanity. We feel lost. There are no pathways. The wind blows sands over the footprints we were following out of this desert. A sandstorm swarms our vision, and we don’t know which way to go. We might step on a snake or a scorpion which stings.
The desert is not a fun place to be. It wearies my soul. It causes doubts to rise as there is one more dune to climb, one more mirage, and I want to give up rather than keep going one more time.
Personally, I am in a desert place. My soul is parched. The sand infects my wounds, and there is no guide. I did not choose the desert path. Due to no fault of my own, I find myself there. The time of joy and Christmas cheer turned into a time of longings, hurts, doubts, and frustrations.
I am sunburnt. Physical touch stings. Well-wishes feel like rubbing sand in my skin. I need refuge. I need someone to see me from a search and rescue team and to spot me from their helicopter.
The Slave Sent Out
We have all been in a desert or are in the desert hoping for search and rescue. We feel the sunburn as the things we thought God were going to bless us with are ripped out from under us, and we feel sentenced to the desert.
One woman in the Bible felt the same way. Her name is Hagar. She is the Egyptian slave to Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were tired of waiting for God’s blessing, so Sarah gave Abraham Hagar to sleep with and to bear children with. For Hagar, this meant she would be favored. She would be treated different because of her who child is (Genesis 16).
Hagar becomes pregnant! However, instead of praise, she is punished. Sarah hates her. Hagar is then sent out into the desert. No longer is she safe. She is scorned and shunned. The precious child inside her, the gift God gave her, is despised. Sarah treated Hagar so bad, that she had no choice but to go into the desert.
It is in the desert that I see something I’ve never seen. Usually, we see Hagar as Abraham’s rash rushing of God’s promise. But, it is here I find something about God I’ve never seen.
Invitation to Intimacy
Beside a spring of water, God sees Hagar. He approaches her. Her tears stain her dusty face. She lifts her head as God calls her name, “Hagar.” God uses her name. He didn’t say, “Hey, you!” No. He knows her name. He asks her where she came from and where she is going.
In this exchange between God and Hagar, God blesses her and tells her to call her son Ishmael – for God hears (Genesis 16:11). God hears Hagar and gives her a permanent reminder – her son’s name. He names her son. But, God does not stop there. He allows Hagar to name him. She names God and calls the place where she met God Beer-lahai-roi – the well of the Living One who sees me (Genesis 16:13).
By naming her son, God invites Hagar to name him. God becomes the One who sees. In naming people, we have an intimate relationship with that person. We call people brother, father, mother, my love, mon amore, etc. When given the permission to name another, we step into intimacy with that individual.
In the desert, an invitation of intimacy was given. When we are in the midst of a desert we need food and water, but we crave connection. We crave intimacy knowing we are seen, we are not alone, and that we have a hand to hold as we walk.
It is in the desert we see intimacy clearer. Lush paradises block out the sun as we focus on trees, waterfalls, and the beauty found there. The wasteland of the desert focuses our attention on where heaven meets the earth. Our tears and burdens show greater when they fall on the dry dirt. In the desert, it is easier to spot the wanderer than in the midst of a tropical jungle.
God invites us to this same intimacy.
I Am Here
Here I am. I am in the desert. I have doubted. I am hurting. Someone using my past against me hurts deeply. It is a nightmare like a snake biting you in the desert night. I have cried. I have yelled at God. I have withheld praise from him. I have thought about running away.
Yet, what is the best thing to do when you find yourself in the desert? Build shelter, send out an S.O.S., and wait for rescue. Handling the desert on your own never ends well. As I look at the vast wasteland before me, I can see clearly where heaven and earth meet. It is in this place where I can be honest with God. I can tell him I am running. I can tell him these things. But, instead of yelling at me and punishing me, God invites me to name him. He invites me into intimacy with him. He invites me to dance with him in the desert.
Do I know when search and rescue will come? No. But, I know I am seen. He names me in the desert, and invites me to do the same.
Prayers and well wishes are good, but to be seen and called in the desert is much better. It is in those moments that heaven touches the earth and intimacy begins.
In secret, I can stop believing. But, in the desert, all is seen and all is open. All I have to do is be open and honest.
The first step is to know God sees me. It is not easy. I want to give up and run away. But, what good is that in the desert? It will only hurt me. It is best to stop, set up shelter, and wait for search and rescue. As I wait, I can spend each day seeing where heaven meets the earth.
To whoever used my past against me, I forgive you. I truly do. It is difficult to say, but it is the right thing to do. Let’s do coffee together and work through whatever you hold against me.
But for now, I will sit in the desert. I will set up a shelter. I will be open and honest. I do not know when search and rescue will come. But, I will try my best to allow God to name me in the desert as he invites me to name him.
When you find yourself in the desert, look for where heaven and earth meets. It is in that place where invitation to intimacy is open and ready for you.
Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, “You are the God who sees me.” She also said, “Have I truly seen the One who sees me?”
– Genesis 16:13
Suggest Song – Oh, My Soul by Casting Crown